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To label Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, which arrived today on DVD and Blu-ray, as Harry Potter with Greek mythology is to fault the zebra for having stripes because the tiger had them first. The hero’s journey story of a young protagonist realizing he or she has a destiny and entering a world previously unknown to him or her is as ancient as, well, Greek mythology. Was 20th Century Fox hoping that Percy would become the next Harry at the box office? Without question, but it should be judged on its own merits, no matter how similar the two are.
It doesn’t help that director Chris Columbus, who first brought Harry Potter to the big screen by directing the first two films, is behind the camera for “Lightning Thief” too, but you can’t blame Fox for going after a proven talent when it comes to adapting young adult adventure fantasies for the big screen. Columbus’ eye for adventure is in fact what keeps this adaptation of the Rick Riordan book entertaining, albeit his ability to create the epic doesn’t cover up his inability to do much in the way of subtlety.
The plot is typical fantasy: Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) shockingly learns he is demi-god as explained by the mentor figures protecting him and that he’s a critical figure in some controversy he doesn’t know about. He is then introduced to the world of being a demi-god and discovers he’s cut out for the life and embraces his destiny. Lastly he goes on an adventure with friends to retrieve some object that culminates in some kind of battle brought on by a plot twist regarding a deceptive character.
Since that’s nothing a fantasy fan hasn’t seen before, it’s the trappings of the Percy Jackson world that will make or break the film. The success varies in this area, with what doesn’t work resulting from Percy’s adventure taking him through unexciting modern-day North America where the entrance to the Underworld is ironically next to the Hollywood sign, the Pantheon recreation in Nashville is the closest thing there is to “Greek history” and the reflective backside of the iPod Touch is the most convenient tool for looking at Medusa’s reflection. Creative, yes, but compare that to the magic and imagination of Harry Potter and that’s the biggest difference separating the two films.
The casting decisions and the excitement for Greek mythology fans to guess who or what is coming next definitely helps keep “Lightning Thief” stay fresh and somewhat more surprising. As for the nucleus of young actors, Lerman easily has the look and ability of the young hero and even a voice and style that’s barely discernible from Shia LeBeouf’s. His closest friends are a satyr named Grover played by Tropic Thunder co-star Brandon T. Jackson, who knows his character is somewhat of a stereotype but roles with it nicely and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of Athena, the calm and collected beauty deliberately intended to break stereotype. The supporting roles and cameos of key mythological figures are endless: Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Rosario Dawson, Uma Thurman and more.
As a more engaging way for young ones to learn some facts about Greek mythology, “The Lightning Thief” trumps numerous textbooks. Any child could see this movie and have a bunch of mythology to Google from the classic names of all the gods as well as Perseus, Medusa and Hydra to the lesser-known Furies and Lotus-Eaters. Other films of the genre have been more entertaining, but of the few young fantasy adaptations that have tried to fill the shoes of a soon-departing Harry Potter, “Percy Jackson” at least puts up a watchable, amusing fight.
Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Directed by Chris Columbus
Written by Craig Titley, Rick Riordan (book)
Starring: Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario
Other Player Affinity Reviews
Dinah thought: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightening Thief is certainly a kid flick. So don’t be surprised when the mythological tale comes across as condescending. It was actually an okay time, but it had distracting flaws. The CGI was so hot and cold it was as if two different special effects teams worked on the film and one of the teams smoked crack. But most off-putting (though it should be expected) was the kid-corny dialogue generously offered by the stereotypical token sidekick character. Kids clapped at the end at my theater, but for adults it probably came up short.” Rating: 5/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 5.5/10